In Kirchner's Absence, Argentine Whispers Of Health Secrets And Successors

Kirchner, in August, flanked by possible successor Scioli
Kirchner, in August, flanked by possible successor Scioli
Eduardo Van Der Kooy

BUENOS AIRES - The announcement came this weekend that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner will be recuperating for at least the next month from a brain condition brought on by a head injury in August. While the news is shaking up the nation, it is also putting a veil across a potential political crisis for Argentina.

Among other things, we can see the accelerated political decline of a president who won the last election with 54% of the votes, and is expected to seek another term in two years.

Her slide is apparent no matter where you look. First, Kirchner is facing a potential electoral defeat in the upcoming regional elections at the end of October, with her close ally, Daniel Scioli behind in the polls in the race for a second term as Governor of the Buenos Aires province.

But beyond the polls, there seems to be a progressive worsening in her system for exercising power, as management failures mount alongside a deepening disappointment with the Kirchner brand of Peronism that that has dominated the past decade in Argentine politics.

The list of diplomatic problems without solutions is piling up -- with Spain over Repsol, with Washington over the detention of a naval vessel, with Brazil over trade issues, with Uruguay over a border conflict over pollution. And each time, Kirchner looks increasingly isolated.

Questions of succession

Kirchner’s accumulation of blood on her brain, according to specialists, could be because of an older medical condition. At the same time, the country's problems can take a toll on its leader. Similarities in symptoms have been commented on with the sudden death of her late husband and former president. Nestor Kirchner reportedly received repeated warning signs from his body before he died in 2007.

Although Cristina seems to be more cautious and paying closer attention to her health, in both cases the suspicion of political manipulation persists. The brain scan that Kirchner showed Saturday included details of her medical history; and although it wasn’t entirely clear, at least it was communicated. Her first episode was in 2011 when she fell during a visit to the Luis Federico Leloir Institute. The problem was dealt with by a well-known neurologist who told her that there were no cerebral consequences after this incident.

The second trauma she suffered was unspecified, but perhaps came when she went roller-blading in August The same neurologist who treated her in 2011 gave the same “all-clear” diagnosis again.

Then, on Saturday, the president’s arrhythmia and migraines were treated by a different doctor, and after hours of various rumors came the announcement of strict bed rest for a month. Much less is known about the characteristics and possible consequences of this delicate condition.

With the pause come questions about the future, even as Kirchner had begun to build a line of presidential succession. Among the many who she could choose to succeed her, Buenos Aires' Scioli is at the top of the list, considered a close and trusted ally. During her last TV appearance, Kirchner said of him: “I have never lost confidence in him.” Meanwhile, this weekend he stated “We must take care of the president’s health.”

Scioli, who had served as Nestor Kirchner's Vice President, has become “Re-Kirchnerized” to a remarkable extent over the past few months. His run for governor of Buenos Aires at the end of October has taken on extra weight in light of the President's absence.

Did Scioli, perhaps, know something about Kirchner’s ailing health? Or did he simply sense the possibility of new openings? Had he talked about it at all with the president? In this time of massive political uncertainty, answers to these questions are the most precious of commodities in the Argentine capital.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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